Poor people unite against corrupt sarpanches
A large number of civil society organisations and common people from various districts of Rajasthan staged a massive protest rally in Jaipur on Dec 15 against the state government’s inaction in the implementation of social audits in the NREGS works. They have charged that the state government has deliberately avoided taking action against elected sarpanches who have managed to stall the process of social audits in the state.
Over 1500 rural folks, a large number of them women and children, had gathered at the Shahid Maidan, Jaipur on a call given by the Suchana Ka Adhikar Abhiyan, a civil society organisation, to demand greater transparency in NREGS works .The main slogan of the protesters was ‘Hamara Paisa—Hamara Hisab” or (We want clear account for our money). The protesters were undeterred by the state government’s elaborate deployment of police force at the venue.
The main grouse of the protesters was that the money meant for rural employment of the poorest of poor people was being usurped by the sarpanches, who, in many cases, were using JCBs or earth moving machines instead of human labour to get the work done under NREGS in gross violation of norms. They openly charged that the elected sarpanches were pocketing the public’s money with active support of the government engineers deputed to ensure implementation.
Says Ankita Pandey of the Suchana ka Adhikar Abhiyan, “After Bhilwara social audit sarpanches are in revengeful mood. They have formed a union to block social audits and are threatening those who are trying to take legal action.”
Siraj a 40 yrs old social activist told im4change that in Soniyana panchayat of Chittorgarh district a group of sarpanches threatened him and his colleagues who were conducting a social audit. They had to leave the venue despite a government order authorising them to conduct the audit.
After Bhilwara social audit in October last, the Sarpanch seems to have got into trouble because in audit after audit, common people are coming out to challenge the sarpanches to be accountable for every penny spent in the works, both in labour cost and in the purchase of construction material. Siraj told im4change that in Soniyana for year 2008-09, Rs 3.75 crore have been spent on NREGS out of which 1.5 corore were incurred on construction material or on hiring JCB machine in violation of the NREGS rules (The NREGS rules mandate that the money should be spent in 60-40 ratio on labour and construction material. The use of machines and contractors is also prohibited)
A Rajasthan government audit team headed by Project Officer Ramnivas Mehta had said earlier that there are instances of several panchayats where only 10 percent of the NREGS money was spent on labour and the remaining 90 percent on the purchase of construction material. It also pointed out that over 17 lakh rupees are due to be recovered from sarpanches. Meanwhile, the elected sarpanches have managed to score a victory over the poor people by obtaining a stay order from the court which has put a ban on all social audits till further orders.
The system strikes back by Vidya Subrahmaniam, The Hindu, 17 December, 2009,
We will not sit quiet on social audit issue in NREGS, Aruna Roy tells Gehlot government by Sunny Sebastian, The Hindu, 17 December, 2009,
Violence and threats bring a government to its knees by Vidya Subrahmaniam, The Hindu, 16 December, 2009,
Planning Commission drafting reforms for NREGA, Livemint,20 October, 2009,
Social audits lead to action against corrupt officials,